No doubt race played role in S.W. Side fracas

The rub? Most of us want to see end to 'race, class' boundaries

July 24, 2007

What the recent melee in a public park on the city's Southwest Side shows is that even when race supposedly isn't a factor, race is indeed a factor.

Here's what I mean.

On Monday, I heard from an irate resident in Scottsdale, the community where Durkin Park is located.

Sylvia Wiley, a black woman who has lived in Scottsdale for nine years, said she was in the park the night Richard Valdez, 16, was beaten by a group of African-American teens and when a 15-year-old black teen allegedly drove a car -- described by police as an SUV -- into a crowd, seriously injuring eight people.

"I saw the incident and you really got it wrong," Wiley said in a voice-mail message.

Wiley had several complaints: Valdez, whom police described as "Hispanic," is actually an "Irish-Catholic," and the 15-year-old was driving a "black two-door car" and used his cell-phone at a resident's home to call for "GD back-up," apparently referring to the notorious Chicago street gang.

Frankly, I find that hard to believe because bona fide gang members usually shoot at their victims.

But there's no disagreement that the fight started when a group of African-American boys came into the park. Wiley said they were armed with "sticks, bats and pipes" and attacked Valdez in retaliation for an earlier incident.

"People don't realize this happened in retaliation for a fight in April when a boy named Gallagher was beat up. At that time the Chicago Police was notified," Wiley said.

Scottsdale is home to firefighters, police officers and city workers, and a lot of black doctors and professionals also live there, Wiley pointed out. She went on to describe an idyllic neighborhood where parents send their kids to private schools and are involved in all of their activities.

"There is no imaginary boundary," she said. "But we are not going to let [African-American] kids come over here and run over our children and throw up gang signs, steal their iPods and cell phones and chase them out of our park. You come over here, you don't flash gang signs. You don't use profanity," Wiley said.

"My question is where was the parents of all of these boys?" she asked. "And if the boy [who drove into the crowd] was so afraid for his life, why didn't he stay at the house where it was a safe haven?"

Of course, the same question could be asked of the white kids who allegedly surrounded the 15-year-old's sister. And we're all interested in seeing that those who were responsible for severely beating Valdez be punished for the battery.

Still, whether they admit it or not, Scottsdale is struggling to preserve the same "race and class boundary" other communities have struggled with.

These boundaries still exist because the fear still exists that blacks bring an increase in crime when they move in and around non-black neighborhoods. Middle-class blacks share the same fear.

"We have no idea where they came from," Wiley said, referring to the African-American boys who came to Durkin Park that night. "They think it's an easy hit over here."

She accused police of being slow to address the community's concerns because it isn't a high-crime area. And now thieves are robbing residents of iPods and cell phones right outside of their $300,000 homes.

"The mayor has said city workers have to live in the city and these families want to raise their children in a decent area. Do we have to do what other people have done and move to the suburbs?'' she asked.

On the night of the fight, the Chicago Police Department and the city's 911 system failed miserably. It took 26 minutes for police to show up, and if it takes that long for police to respond to an emergency in this well-to-do neighborhood, I shudder to think how long it would have taken for them to show up in a poor one.

"Maybe if the Chicago Police would have responded, this wouldn't have happened," Wiley said, referring to the fight. "This group doesn't live in the neighborhood. They drove into our community," she said.

Wiley is now concerned about her own son. "I am concerned about letting him go out of the house," she said. "I don't just have to worry about the blacks, but I have to worry about the whites, too."

That gets back to my original column about the city's racial and class boundaries.

We stand a better chance of tearing down those boundaries if we remember that the majority of us -- even those who live in high-crime areas -- are fighting the same battle.